Micromanagement Comes to Mason Fire Dept.

At their January 8, 2015 “work session” the select board applied a good dose of “managing by shaking things up” or micromanagement. Simple example from the minutes is the line “6014-09 – Building maintenance – BOS moved this to 6007-05 Town Buildings and Maintenance – increase to $29000″. Seems innocuous enough, it transfers $4000 from what has historically been a fire department builing maintenance line to the town building line. When at a later meeting Chief Baker asked where he should go for building repairs, the selectmen responded “Wally Brown” the building maintenance head.

At face value, that seems fine; move all town building maintenance to one line. However we were reminded of a quote from the selectmen’s December 30, 2014 “work session” when the topic turned to a sign for the Mann House. “We have the money left over, might as well just do it now” our notes quoted Selectmen Lavoie as saying (however, that particular statement didn’t make it into the minutes).

When Chief Baker pointed out that most of the maintenance work on the fire department building was done on a volunteer basis by the members themselves, even more friction started to arise. Selectman O’Grady was concerned that the “compliance” upgrade of the stairs in the building was not sufficient. “Just making it better isn’t sufficient, what’s the point when it still doesn’t satisfy code?” is our paraphrase quote.

The other major topic resulting from the Fire Chief presentation at the January 8 work session was his request to re-instate the adminstrative assistant line item (6014-23) which the selectmen cut to $0 at their December session. Chief Baker had submitted a request to raise this line from $1800 to $3000, and indicated that the amount expended for that line has been $0 because he hasn’t been able to find a qualified person to perform the function. He himself acknowledged that paper work is not his strong suite, and offered a part of his stipend to maintain the line item. The resistance from the selectmen was fierce, with Selectman O’Grady being against the administrative position, “it just grows and grows”; selectwoman Lavoie concurred. Chairman Moser was able to moderate, and we believe the line was restored to its past value of $1800; however, across several meetings and without handouts or minutes to compare against, any member of the public, not to mention ourself, would have difficulty following these discussions.

Then very quietly Chief Baker distributed a copy of RSA 154:15 to the select board. It basically states that the fire chief is the authorizing agent for expending fire department funds approved by town meeting. Never mind the $1000 selectmen’s expenditure approval cap that has already created one employee casualty (see towards the bottom of this post as to the past effect on the highway department). The RSA seems to have had the effect of a giant thud on the head table… no response from the selectmen.

Chief Baker didn’t resign, or even threaten to, but in a later conversation reminded us of his 41 years on the department. We also reminisced about a now ancient selectmen/police chief flap over who was authorized to spend less than $100 of pistol permit fees received by the police department. That particular fiasco resulted in the resignation Police Chief Fred Gilson, and the resolution cost the town significantly more than the $50 at issue.

However, maybe it’s time for us old curmudgeons to move on; but as the saying goes, them that don’t know history often repeat it.

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